Hurricane Michael left many in the Florida Panhandle picking up scraps and pieces of their homes. When your roof has been blown away, a clean pair of socks may not seem so important.
Port St. Joe residents will tell you clean clothes aren’t as low on the list as you may expect. That’s why the town’s one open laundromat — The Laundry Basket — has been a blessing. Caryn Reid, its owner, evacuated to Mississippi for the hurricane. The chilling images of destruction were burned into her mind during her six-hour drive home to the Panhandle.
“It was overwhelming when we first got back but it’s almost like you’re kinda getting a little numb to it,” Reid said. “You just kinda gotta pull up your pants and keep on going.”
It’s the only working laundromat that can be found for miles.
“I don’t know how I escaped but I’m very thankful,” Reid said as she took a look around her laundromat.
Without water, power or gas at home, Reid found it was easier to mop up some puddles and put her business back together than fix her house.
“It smelled ’cause it was closed up and the air wasn’t running so it had kind of a funky smell,” she said.
Within four days they were able to open their doors again. People came from as near as Wewahitchka and as far as Panama City take advantage of Reid’s services.
“We’ve had everything from ‘We’ve had no damage’ to ‘I’ve lost everything and this is what I have,'” Reid said, “so I’ve had the whole gamut of loss.”
Dennis Thorne lives in St. Joe Beach, approximately thirty minutes away from The Laundry Basket. He doesn’t visit the main town often, but a trip to the hardware store led him to realize the laundromat was up and running.
Thorne is thankful for the ability to have clean clothes throughout the severe circumstances he’s undergoing.
“It’s just trying to keep up with some routine of life,” Thorne said.
Reid said the hundreds of people who come through her doors come with all types of baggage — sometimes literally.
“Some people come with just one load cause either it’s all they have or it’s all they can carry or all they can deal with,” Reid said.
Melanie Gant has much more than just one load. She has five children.
“I got a bed in my truck that’s full of laundry and stuff that got wet because our roof got messed up and a lot of our stuff got wet,” Gant said.
Michael broke her washing machine and made her laundry room inaccessible. She already spent six hours at The Laundry Basket and will likely spend many more. Hurricane destruction doesn’t stop the dirty laundry from piling up.
It’ll take time to rebuild the hurricane-ravaged town of Port Saint Joe. But it may not look like the same place where many grew up and raised their families.
The strong hurricane winds and storm surge leveled out many homes, destroyed businesses, and took a heavy financial toll on many residents in the Florida Panhandle. Reid is afraid a large number of them won’t return.
“They want to cut their losses and go. Hopefully they’ll find something better,” she said.
For those who have come back, The Laundry Basket can make them feel like they’ve returned home — even if it is one load at a time.